Word on the street: In conversation with HR professionals

This month and next, our team hits the road meeting in-person with HR and L&D leaders to hear more about their current concerns. From various conversations, what surprised us most was the depth of exhaustion and feeling a sense of being stuck as the challenges mount. Bruce explains more…

Last week I attended two HR and L&D professional events, in Austin and New York. I enjoyed being out meeting people, and had many a rich conversation. Here’s a few insights worth sharing.

HR is Exhausted

HR professionals, in general, and those with health care providers specifically, are exhausted! Their teams are tired. Repeatedly I heard people share their concerns for the departments and their staff, and almost all of this is due to 1) to Covid and 2) to the challenges of remote/hybrid working policies. Several HR leaders asked for suggestions on what they might do to bring relief and support to their HR teams.

It’s no secret that before March 2020, most HR teams were running near total capacity, just keeping on top of benefits, talent acquisition (TA), wellness, DE&I, and learning and development (L&D). However, with Covid came a myriad of new initiatives, regulations, policies, and procedures that required immediate attention and, in many cases, froze everything else. 

In the aftermath of the pandemic, all HR leaders are playing catch up while staying abreast of new issues and challenges. The rush to catch up to adapt to the pandemic and hybrid work creates a cruel back-to-back-to-back series of crises. It’s easy to see why their teams are exhausted.

It’s Easy To See Why

When I met folks last week I started a conversation with a simple question, “what the most challenging part of their role is today?”, and these answers say a lot about the state that most HR teams are in:


  • “We have to make upgrades to what we’re using, but where to start?”
  • “Business units must own and invest in the learning for their teams. It cannot come solely from L&D (HR)”
  • “Our leadership wants a business case to invest in L&D. They know it’s important but want data to show the ROI.”
  • “Having a culture of learning is a key for us, and that culture starts with our leadership.”


  • “A company, especially F500’s, reflects society.” 
  • “The same issues on the street are in our company.” 
  • “Nothing is getting easier.” 
  • “DE&I issues continue to suck up much oxygen.”


  • “Compliance and dealing with all the new labor compliance for both the US and foreign-based workers” (e.g.. USMC, etc.)
  • “Collective bargaining is becoming more aggressive.”
  • “It’s harder to dismiss ineffective or non-performing employees – more and more legal action.”
  • “New government regulations.”

What does it all mean?

As I reflected on these conversations over the weekend, studying my notes, three pressing concerns dominated the conversations:

Prioritizing L&D

Everyone I spoke with values L&D, but it’s one of many things each HR leader must manage. Of course, some have a better handle on it than others, but no one says, “we’ve got it all figured out.” Leading and managing large teams, some consisting of 300+ personnel, is becoming harder with no obvious short-term off-ramp.

Talent retention is a top priority for all

Finding new and better ways to engage with and provide new opportunities for current employees is essential for all HR leaders. The issue here is whether retention strategies fall exclusively with the benefits team, the talent acquisition team, or even the L&D team. Some are even creating new departments focused solely on retention. Unfortunately, too many HR leaders feel they are still way too reactive when they should be more proactive with their plans and efforts.

Inconsistent Support from EXCOM

For many, having a “seat at the EXCOM” table has been a blessing and a curse. For most, the EXCOM understands that their talent is a strategic advantage and imperative, but there remain what one person called “intermittent disconnects” between finance, operations, and leadership when it comes to prioritization. We’re building the plane in flight was a phrase repeated often in describing how their departments and teams are functioning.

Make L&D more impactful and easier to deliver

L&D is just one of the challenges on HR’s plate. It is also one that ripples through others like retention, onboarding, engagement, and right-skilling. Those of us offering products and services to enhance L&D need to approach HR as a resource offering support, not as one more requirement they need to address. 

The difference is subtle. Maybe the best way to frame it is, we’re not here to just help you check the L&D box off of your corporate to-do list—sell a platform and walk away and leave you with one more initiative to build. Instead we’re here to help you imagine and create a learning culture that lifts the talent to a new level in response to business opportunities and threats, while removing friction for employees, managers, EXCOM, and HR.


About Learn In‍‍

Learn In helps companies establish talent academies that steer all the resources needed for building an always-skilled workforce. HR, Talent and L&D leaders use Learn In to modernize access to learning budgets and world-class programs, and to simplify the delivery of custom programs to employee groups. Learn In’s core features include a tuition benefits manager, a prepaid learning stipend card, a world-class program marketplace and custom program builder, and dedicated coaching. Now every employee can build deeper skills precisely aligned to company needs. Co-founded by the founders of Degreed, Learn In is backed by leading edtech & future-of-work investors, including Firework Ventures, Kickstart Fund, GSV, Album, and Village Global, and has been covered in CNBC, USA Today, EdTechReview, EdSurge, and Techcrunch.

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